Foodborne Hazards of Microbial Origin

Foodborne disease agents are characterized by their diversity. Some produce their effects through toxic metabolites resulting from the growth of microorganisms in the food before ingestion and are classified as foodborne intoxications (eg, staphylococcal food poisoning and botulism). Others produce adverse effects through ingestion of living microorganisms and thus are called foodborne infections (eg, Salmonella, Vibrio parahemolyticus, Listeria monocytogenes, and Clostridium perfringens poisoning). A detailed description of these bacteria, their toxins, prevalence, and toxicity can be found in a review by Concon (10). Other pathogens are emerging as important public health threats, including E. coli 0157:H7, Campylobacter jejuni, and Yersinia (11). The severity of the toxic effects ranges from temporary discomfort to the acute lethality of botulism. Infants, the elderly, and persons on immunosuppressive or chemotherapeutic drugs are thought to be more susceptible to the toxic effects of these microbial agents. The main source of these hazards may be on the farm, during food processing, or more likely, during food service preparation or preparation at home. The changing consumer lifestyle, including increased number of women in the workforce, limited time for food preparation, and an increase in the number of single heads of households, may also impact the emergence and reemergence of foodborne pathogens (12).

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